A firebrand Daily Mail columnist has faced online wrath in the wake of the death of a transgender primary school teacher he had referred to in a column for the paper.
Lucy Meadows, 32, who previously taught at St Mary Magdalen's School as a man, Nathan Upton, was found dead in her home in Accrington, Lancashire. Police confirmed her death was not being treated as suspicious.
Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn had referred to Ms Meadows in a column three months previously, suggesting she was "in the wrong job" and put her "own selfish needs ahead of the wellbeing of the children".
There is nothing whatsoever to suggest the death of Ms Meadows, which is being reported as suicide, and the column by Littlejohn were in any way connected.
The Daily Mail were not the first paper to cover Ms Meadow's return to the school as a woman, it was first reported in the Accrington Observer, which quoted one angry parent.
A Mail spokesman told HuffPost UK: "It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated twitterstorm, fanned by individuals – including former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell – with agendas to pursue."
In the column, Littlejohn makes it clear he sympathises with those who feel trapped in the wrong body, and is supportive of "the 400 or so people a year who opt for ‘gender reassignment’ surgery to put themselves out of their misery.
"I don’t even have any problem with sex-change operations being carried out on the NHS, provided it’s a genuine medical necessity and not a lifestyle choice. Transsexuals pay taxes, too," he writes.
But he later argues: "Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.
"Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies."
The piece was taken offline in the wake of Meadows' death. A Mail spokesman told HuffPost UK it was "regrettable"
Two online petitions, one on Change.org with 10,000 signatures, and one on Sum of Us with more than 25,000 signatures call for the columnist to resign.
The Change.org petition writes: "Throughout the article, Littlejohn repeatedly referred to Lucy as “he”, and claimed that getting gender reassignment surgery showed that she didn't care for the children she taught."
An online petition has requested a formal apology from Littlejohn and said that he should be fired or resign.
The petition says: "No one deserves to have their lives turned upside down for their gender identity being thrown into the national spotlight.
"The reason the parents who had a problem went to the Daily Mail is that there was no way to get her fired under equal opportunity law. So they tried to give the school bad press by saying how terrible it is that she is allowed to live her life freely."
David Allen Green, legal adviser to Trans Media Watch, a charity for transgender people, told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight: "These monsterings are quite common in respect of transgendered people," he said.
"There is no public interest in the story whatsoever. The only part of the story which seems significant is that there is a gender reassignment, what used to be called a sex change.
"What makes it especially easy for tabloids is that transgendered people are very unlikely to fight back. They are usually members of the public and have no experience of dealing with media and all they want to do is to make it go away.
"In a way, tabloids treat transgendered people the way they would treat anybody if they could get away with it."
"There is a sense that transgendered people are fair game for sensationalist reporting. These are people who are going through the most traumatic experiences you can imagine and they are suddenly humiliated by these stories in the tabloids."
Headteacher Karen Hardman said: "She was a greatly valued member of our staff and we send her family and friends our sympathy and prayers.
"We are working closely with the county council and the diocese to ensure we offer our pupils and staff the support they need."
A Mail spokesman told HuffPost UK: "A column by Richard Littlejohn... emphatically defended the rights of people to have sex change operations but echoed the parents’ concerns about whether it was right for children to have to confront complex gender problems at such a vulnerable young age.
Those criticising Littlejohn "might do well to consider today’s words of media commentator Roy Greenslade: ‘Let me begin this posting by urging that people do not rush to judgment… it is important to note that there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows,'" the spokesman said.
He added: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Lucy Meadows."